Article by Russell de la Harpe
Sitting in an airport terminal next to a pile of fly rods is always an exciting and almost nerve wracking experience. All sorts of thoughts run through one’s head – will I be fishing the right areas? Will the weather play ball? Have I got the right flies? And so on. Thankfully in my situation New Zealand is such an exceptional paradise for fly fisherman that if you do your research and put the effort in while you are there it is almost guaranteed that you will have some awesome fishing, see a variety of beautiful places and meet some of the most welcoming and fishy people.
These are a few of my highlights from my time in this amazing place, which I would encourage any fly fisherman to visit at least once in their lifetime.
First stop upon arrival was to check out one of the Auckland fly shops, viz., Totally Fly. There we purchased all the extra fishing necessities to make sure we were all sorted in terms of gear for the NZ rivers. The guys in the shop, Yoshi and Chris (A South African), were super interested in our fly boxes and took the time to go through them tell us which they recommended we use and also those they thought would work in specific areas. In doing so they gave us the break-down on the rivers we had planned to fish. I would highly recommend popping into that shop to chat to those guys when you arrive so you aren’t heading into your first spot blind-folded.
After ticking off two new species in the saltwater from a kayak while recovering from our jet-lag and spending the obligatory few days with the family, the ‘real’ fishing got underway (which was nothing short of incredible!).
“We will start seeing fish from the first pool, probably 10-20 of them but we wont worry about them as they’re spawning and not worth the effort”, said Andrew Christmas as we carried our inflatable down the steep bank towards the mighty Tongariro River. This was our first river and laying eyes on it was surreal. The turquoise blue water, long deep pools with high gorges that broke into shallower pocket water with perfect runs and slots that were jam-packed with fish was no doubt the perfect start to our trip.
We fished heavy ‘New Zealand style’ nymph rigs in the morning, which got us into some gorgeous rainbows straight away. The trout pulled unbelievably hard in the fast cool water of this river. Rafting is definitely the best way to fish the upper reaches of the Tongariro, the massive impassible pools and steep cliff faces making it impossible to get to on foot.
After just a few hours we had already landed a good number of nice fish each and were certainly satisfied with our first proper fishing day. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better Andrew stopped the raft in the main channel and we walked up a small fork with a single rod between us. We tied on a dry fly and proceeded to have upwards of ten shots at 20”+ rainbows that were feeding prolifically in shallow water. We managed to hook a few of these and land a couple that didn’t manage to outmuscle or outsmart us in the fast water. I realized how ridiculous the fish numbers were in this small little fork when we managed to pull five fish from a single bubble line on the edge of a pool. Our first day was pretty much the best day of fishing numbers-wise and aside from my 6-wt going into an early retirement after a point load at my feet, it was the perfect start.
The amount of fishable water in New Zealand is difficult to wrap your head around at first. The excellent fishing NZ is renowned for is evident in the Taupo region and after spending some more time fishing smaller rivers in the region and having some trickier fishing in worse weather conditions we were off to the south island.
The wind and overcast conditions made it difficult to spot fish for the first few hours, but one fish we spotted, however, was in such skinny water we couldn’t miss it. We had spotted the trout only a few feet from the bank next to an exposed boulder where it was feeding on occasion. Standing in the river I felt the strong crosswind, but tried to push through the nervous shakes and made the cast, which ended up fly-leader-and-fly line in the grass as the wind pushed it into the bank. Mark Sutherland kindly offered me his rod to make a second presentation which was on the money. The fish ate the fly slowly and I could see the white of his mouth as it was almost inverted underneath the fly. I then pulled the fly out of his mouth on the strike and missed the fish as a result of over-excitement.
I was seriously bleak about my shocking attempt at a ‘composed’ hook-set. It was also the only fish we had seen all day, but after about a fifteen minute break it appeared in the same lie again. On the third attempt I managed to hold back on the strike and allowed the brown to eat the fly properly before setting the hook. After a nervous fight down a small rapid we finally got the fish in the net. It was a gorgeous brown trout. It also turned out to be my most memorable fish of the trip. Then Dad managed a good rainbow from a deep run before the conditions got even worse making it impossible to spot fish and we called it a day.
The rest of our time on South Island was plagued by bad weather systems and the glacial melt lead to cloudy rivers. We struggled on other rivers we fished, including the Mataura, but nonetheless we had an awesome time in some of the most scenic country we had seen and still caught a few very nice fish.
Back to the North Island…
When one drives over some of the North Island spring creeks they don’t look like much, and I am sure that many travelling fly fishers don’t give them a second look. It is possible however, that some of them may be comparable to some of the most spectacular fisheries known to fly fisherman.
For instance, any trout fishing that requires you to fish with an 8-wt and 20 lb mono is sure to be a different experience to most fly anglers. Such an outfit may be commonplace in fisheries like Jurassic Lake where huge fish and adverse weather conditions call for heavy gear. However, in this instance you will be using this setup for huge fish in a bushed-in stream that is small enough to rest your rod across. In the words of Cory Scott who guided us on one of these streams, “This is not fly fishing, this is more like jungle warfare”.
He couldn’t have described it any better. The small, spring-fed stream that runs under the shade of a ‘jungle canopy’ holds huge numbers of massive browns and rainbows for two reasons. As it is spring fed the water remains cold even in the summer months and it is also so overgrown it provides good cover for these beasts to lurk in.
I cant remember exactly how many fish we saw on that day but if I were to guess it would be upward of fifteen browns. The smallest fish was about 8 lb and the biggest an estimated 15 lb fish. The big trout was so comfortable in our presence that even after I poked it with the rod tip it didn’t budge. This is also an illustration of how up-close and personal the fishing was to us.
A twenty inch rainbow in that river is a ‘trash-fish’ and mostly ignored by the guide. The main target is to hook and land some of the behemoth browns that live there.
After a long day of missed opportunities – hook-ups that simply didn’t go our way and some fish that were just too smart for us – my old man took it upon himself to make it happen and made two ‘shots’ to land two awesome fish. The first was a seriously beefy rainbow that ate the fly under the rod tip and then the second was by far the fish of the trip.
After a few drifts of the size 6 tungsten caddis past a fish that Dad eventually described as a ‘massive log’, Cory recommended one last drift before a fly change was made. Cory was obviously convinced that ‘the log’ was indeed a fish.
Unexpectedly (and to our disbelief), Dad made the perfect bow-and-arrow cast in front of this beast and it ate the fly. What happened after that is still a blur to me. In short, there was a lot of rod passing under logs, guide and clients falling in the water, swearing and eventually, when enough sand had been kicked up to blind the fish it started to roll on the surface. Cory took advantage of the situation and managed to scoop the splashing fish into the net. If you would like to translate the chaos into another appropriate manner, imagine trying to net a fully grown warthog in a small hallway.
The ten pounds of pure New Zealand gold was admired by all of us for a few brief moments above water and then released. Once back in the water the trophy brown gave us the pleasure of admiring it for a bit longer as it just sat in shallow water for a few minutes as we looked upon, mesmerized by its size and beauty. It was no doubt the fish of the trip and as it turned out, it was the last fish of the trip.
We couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the trip and there is no doubt that we would be back sooner rather than later to fish some of the splendid North Island spring creeks and also South Island’s big glacial, braided river systems, hopefully with more time to explore. In ending I leave you with a touch more fish porn from the quiet little stream we fished in the North Island, images courtesy to Kiyoshi Nakagawa from Totally Fly Auckland.
Who to get hold of in NZ:
Kiyoshi Nakagawa – Totally Fly Auckland – (www.totallyflyfishing.co.nz)
Taupo – Andrew Christmas – (www.taupotroutguide.com)
Otago – Jake Berry – (www.southernriversflyfishing.co.nz)
Rotorua/Bay of Plenty – Miles Rushmer – (www.nzfishing.com/fishingguides/erfishingguides/milesrushmerguiding/milesrushmerguiding.htm)
Also Check out www.nzfishing.com for more info on areas, rivers, guides etc.